Saturday, April 26, 2008

Death Is Us Sleeping

She had left to check on the twins. She returns to see that her husband is not in bed, and she cannot recall if he had been when she had awoken earlier. Guessing what had happened, Sami leaves the room and searches EJ’s usual place in the middle of the night. Yet the kitchen is empty, and there is no sign that he has been there. Stumped, she enters the nearby hallway only to stop when she hears something, a faint noise she cannot identify. Sami reenters the kitchen guided by a vague impression. Unsure of what is driving her, she impulsively opens the door to the pantry and is stunned by what she finds.

Arms wrapped around his legs, resting his head on his knees and dully staring into space, EJ is every bit the distressed child he had insisted he was not. He had been right. The day had not come. The night had. Sitting on the floor behind the door, he does not notice her presence at first. Sami starts at the sight of him and, now alerted, EJ sharply looks up and meets her gaze. Neither likes the other’s expression. Sami is taken aback by the shame on EJ’s face, and EJ resents the pity in Sami’s eyes.

Sami smiles reassuringly and offers her hand to him. To her surprise, EJ refuses to take it. Trying to maintain some semblance of dignity, he picks himself up off the floor and walks past her out of the storage space into the kitchen, purposely ignoring her. Sami moves ahead to stand in front of him, challenging him that wherever he was going, she was following. The intensity of his gaze sends a shiver down her spine, and she suddenly notices the redness around his eyes. Had he been crying?

Seeing that there is no escape for him this time, EJ sighs loudly and trudges back to their bedroom with his wife close behind. After entering the room, both get into their respective sides of the bed. EJ folds his arms defensively across his chest and makes no attempt to look at Sami. She stifles an urge to reach out to him. Husband and wife sit in silence before EJ dares to speak.

EJ (annoyed at Sami finding his hiding place): “We need larger cabinets.”

They both laugh, the tension diffused for a moment before the uneasiness floods back. This time it is Sami who pushes it away.

Sami (asking the obvious): “Nightmare?”

EJ turns and glares at Sami.

Sami (apologetically): “I’m sorry, EJ. I never should have asked you to talk about this. About any of it.”

EJ (tiredly looking back at her): “And I never should have started to tell you when you did.”

Sami (realizing what she had unlocked): “I didn’t understand what I was asking of you.”

EJ (sullenly): “No, you didn’t, no matter how much I told you I didn’t want to.”

Sami (explaining): “I just thought we could talk about it a bit and that would be it. I didn’t expect you to…react like this.”

EJ (petulantly): “You should have. You know what he’s like.”

Understanding how just badly she had misjudged, Sami opens her mouth to speak again only to be beaten by the melancholy sigh from the man beside her.

EJ (wincing): “But it’s not as though you control my dreams, Samantha, or I’d ask you for something more pleasant. You never meant to hurt me…quite the opposite, in fact. And what’s done is done.”

Sami (following his reasoning): “You mean, you…you want to talk about it?”

EJ (not answering): “Apparently I have to if I want to sleep here uneventfully in our bed again.”

Sami (reluctantly): “But you still don’t want to, do you?”

EJ (honestly): “No.”

Silence hangs in the air for several minutes.

EJ (resigned as he moves his head to the side): “Unfortunately, I don’t think I really have a choice.”

EJ looks at Sami for her thoughts.

Sami (knowing it’s not what he wants to hear): “I don’t think so either. Not when it’s this bad.”

EJ (ruefully): “So I talk about it then.”

Sami (genuinely): “I’m sorry.”

EJ (apprehensive): “So am I.”

EJ (insistent as he points): “But only this. What we were discussing before.”

Sami (thinking back): “The flashcards?”

EJ (steeling himself): “Yes. Nothing else. Agreed?”

Sami (immediately consenting): “Agreed.”

Trepidation reflecting in his eyes, EJ takes a deep breath before he begins.

EJ (seriously): “This…this was when I was younger. When I was older, it was easy for the most part. I still had to study, but I rarely missed, even with having to add in all the updates, comings and goings, and information revisions.”

EJ (grimacing): “But when I was younger, it was very difficult for me. The photos just made it worse.”

Sami (surprised): “Photos?”

EJ (nodding): “Photos. And I just could not keep track of everyone. Bradys, Hortons, and a mess of other people. So many, and I didn’t know any of them. Playing memory with the pictures just seemed to make it worse, as if they all mixed together into one large blur of random faces.”

His sentence finished, EJ stares off into space. After he makes no attempt to continue, eventually Sami speaks.

Sami (prompting): “EJ?”

As he looks back towards her, Sami cannot help but feel uneasy at the blank look on her husband’s face.

Sami (asking): “You were saying about the photos?”

EJ (suddenly remembering): “Right. The photos plus the profile information made it hard for me, especially when the facts overlapped and applied to multiple people. And then there was keeping all the children straight.”

Sami (not shocked but surprised): “Children? There was stuff in there about me?”

EJ (considering): “Well, yes. Sort of.”

EJ (frowning): “There simply wasn’t the same level of detail on Father’s reports about offspring…not under a certain age, anyway.”

Sami (flabbergasted): “Reports?”

EJ (putting up his hands): “Yes, the-no, wait…never mind. No. I am not talking about those. I am talking about the flashcards.”

Sami (accepting and thinking about the volume of information): “That was a lot to remember, wasn’t it?”

EJ (considering): “Yes, and I simply wasn’t focused enough. Too much of my studying time was wasted. I didn’t understand why Father was asking me to do this in addition to all the other training and lessons I had to do. It seemed like such a chore. I wanted to…play more. I never thought I had enough time for that.”

Uncomfortable with his admission, EJ stops talking.

Sami (pushing): “What happened next?”

EJ (simply): “I was wrong most of the time. I got lucky occasionally, suddenly recalling something.”

Sami (forcing him to take the next step): “What happened when you were wrong?”

EJ (avoiding): “I know he had no right to do that, but he didn’t really mean it most of the time, more out of habit than anything else. That wasn’t really the penalty anyway.”

Sami (noticing what he had not said): “What exactly did he to you do when you were wrong, EJ?”

EJ (struggling with the words): “He’d…hit me. Just slapping. He was careful not to do any damage. Didn’t hurt much.”

Sami (not willing to press the point further): “And then?”

EJ (warning her): “I had…I had to get a lot wrong first.”

Sami (understanding): “Okay.”

EJ (spilling out): “That was first. I did that a lot. It was all their fault anyway. Stupid Bradys and their overlapping multiple preferences. Can’t just have one person like one thing. And no one could just stay in Salem either, always had to have people moving in and out of town all the time. So I got them nearly all wrong. That happened first. Then Father would take me down to the storage chest in one of the spare rooms and put me in there. It was large enough for me, and I could see that he had made it more comfortable than it would have been otherwise, so he had been planning on it. He locked me in. Not that I would have been able to get out anyway. I tried. The locks just made sure. And then later he would come to get me.”

Sami (patiently): “How long were you in there?”

EJ (calm): “I don’t know. I tried to keep track, but I couldn’t. Hours? It always seemed to be a very long time. It was dark. I could breathe fine, but it was dark. I couldn’t see right.”

EJ (absently): “I didn’t like it very much.”

Sami (imagining): “I would think not.”

EJ (remembering): “I didn’t expect Father to do that the first time…I was inconsolable afterwards.”

EJ (slipping): “Because the shadows were wrong.”

Shutting down again, EJ stares at the opposite wall. Sami gives him a few moments before attempting to banish the distant expression that has fallen on his face.

Sami (prompting once more): “So then what happened?”

At the sound of her voice, EJ starts slightly.

EJ (trying to refocus): “He had to take me on holiday for a week. Somewhere warm, white sand. I remember thinking that I had never seen water that clear before. No studying, no training, only playing. Just us. It was very nice, very relaxing. I was able to talk again afterwards. So when we came back, I told Stefano how I wouldn’t be able to do that again, and he said he’d help me.”

EJ (yawning): “Some sort of tranquilizer/hypnotic cocktail, I assume. So I could calm down enough to concentrate. Be the logical choice. I never asked. Didn’t need to. Father knew what he was doing.”

Sami (going along): “Of course.”

Wondering how much of EJ’s composure was his natural disposition and how much was his indoctrination, Sami fails to notice that her husband’s demeanor has changed.

EJ (rationalizing): “That’s why he had to start the injections, so I was able to get used to it. Because it wasn’t so bad after that. Not really.”

Recalling how much easier the forced confinement was with the assistance, the corner of EJ’s mouth turns up.

EJ (lapsing): “Because…because he was right. He did help. I felt better. I could do it then. I was right to tell him. He fixed it.”

Sami (unable to stop herself): “What was the point of all that?”

EJ (disconnected): “Always meant something.”

Sami (not following): “And this was?”

EJ (crystal clear to him): “Two exercises in one.”

Sami (still not getting it): “Which were?”

EJ (rolling his head to his side): “Avoid punishment, gain control, punishment and control.”

Sami (now hearing the change in his voice): “EJ?”

EJ (pouring over the concepts): “Punishment control, control punishment.”

Sami (concerned at his attention): “EJ? EJ, are you okay?”

EJ (not listening): “Learned both. Needed to know both. And I did. I did.”

EJ suddenly grins and takes both of Sami’s hands in his, intertwining their arms together and pulling her towards him.

EJ (unable to hold out any longer): “I did. Because I am a good boy.”

Unable to resist succumbing to the feelings that surrounded the facts he had been explaining to her, EJ draws the well worn blanket of his broken thought patterns around himself. He has made sense of the senseless, and his promise to himself still holds.

EJ (relieved as he looks into her eyes): “I am. You think so too.”

At the sight of EJ smiling beside her, Sami hides her unreasonable disappointment at him and her anger at herself for expecting something else, no matter how improbable. Once again she sees the layer upon layer of injury that one conversation will not be able to erase.

Sami (unwilling to break his satisfaction): “Yes, I do.”

EJ repeats the phrase to himself reassuringly several times, the internal battle for autonomous control momentarily lost.

Sami (wondering as she watches him): “What is a good boy, EJ?”

EJ (answering): “I am one. For you.”

EJ shyly looks at Sami and innocently kisses her on the cheek.

Sami (quietly): “Me?”

EJ (openly as he slurs the word): “Always.”

Spent, EJ bends down and leans against Sami. She is surprised as he is able to somehow manage to both curl up against her yet not burden her with supporting his frame. As he rests his head against hers, Sami allows EJ to gently rock both of them, feeling his calm grow through the repetitive motion.

EJ (mumbling): “Samantha?”

Sami (simply): “Yes, EJ?”

EJ (barely audible): “Done? No more talking?”

Sami moves to gently wrap her arms around the severely scarred boy who shares space with the man she is proud to call her husband.

Sami (confirming): “No more talking.”

He had given, and she had listened. She had helped him. Not nearly enough, but a little. Wondering if he would be able to sleep soundly again, Sami is astonished by EJ interrupting her thoughts.

EJ (closing his eyes): “Okay. Maybe later.”

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